I wanted to take a look as we head into spring training games what the best option should be for the batting order. Lou has already expressed to us that Alfonso Soriano will be the leadoff man. Many, when they heard that statement groaned a collective groan and yearned for better times when Lou would understand that Soriano should not being in the leadoff position. Perhaps we should look at the numbers and see if those wishes are, in fact, justified. Is Soriano a bad choice for the leadoff spot? Is Ryan Theriot better suited for the role. After all, remember how good he did when he was given the chance last year? Let’s take a look at what we received from the two of them last year. Keep in mind that the following numbers are the result of 577 plate appearances by Soriano and 161 plate appearances by Theriot. They’re not even sample sizes, but anything more than 150 plate appearances, in my opinion, is a good enough sample size to get a good reading on what can be done by a player. Here are the results of each player when placed in the top spot in the order last year.

Player Name

AVG

OBP SLG W/L

A. Soriano

.308 .345 .579 69-56

R. Theriot

.300 .342 .420 15-19

As you can see, both players performed particularly well, but had room for improvement. Don’t be fooled by above average batting average and think that they did a great job in that spot. Consider instead the slightly above league average OBP put up by each of them. .334 was the NL average last year for that stat and both were just slightly above that. It’s a stat that’s vital to the leadoff role and our guys had room to improve on it. What got me intrigued was when we delve a little deeper into the numbers. For example, take a look at the team record when each player is in the lineup in the leadoff spot. For Soriano, the team put an above .500 record on the board with him in the leadoff spot, while playing below .500 when Theriot was in that spot. “But when Theriot was in the leadoff spot, Soriano was injured, so his bat was missing in the offense.” That isn’t exactly true. Of the 34 games Theriot was in the leadoff spot, nine of them (26%) of them included Soriano in the lineup.

Maybe we should dive into the alternatives to examine if we really should make a move for change. Let’s take a look at not only how each player performed in non-leadoff positions last year, but also in their career. Let’s start with Soriano in the third spot last year, which consisted of 31 plate appearances. In that limited time, Soriano put up the following numbers:

.179 / .258 / .286 with a team record of 3-4. 31 plate appearances doesn’t seem like a good sample size, so perhaps we should look at his career numbers in various positions to see how they stack up.

Order Position

AVG

OBP SLG Plate App.

Leadoff Spot

.295 .341 .551 2804

Third Spot

.260 .310 .452 687

Fifth Spot

.268 .312 .513 626

That’s a pretty severe drop off when Soriano is moved out of that top spot. The third spot even puts him in the league average OPS numbers. Yuck. That’s certainly not worth the money spent to bring him in. He has always maintained that the leadoff spot is where he feels most comfortable and a good part of the reason is because as the leadoff man, he sees a good deal more fastballs. He may not admit it, but he’s a slugger trapped in a speedy guy body. Sluggers like fastballs and the leadoff spot sees fastballs.

Theriot’s career numbers look like this in the first and second spots.

Order Position

AVG

OBP SLG Plate App.

Leadoff Spot

.289 .329 .409 170

Second Spot

.284 .353 .386 445

There is not nearly as significant a drop off in Theriot’s numbers overall, and one could even argue that his numbers are roughly the same or even better. He gets on base at a more consistent clip and loses just a bit off his slugging.

Let’s assume that Brian Roberts stays in Baltimore and we go into the season with Soriano and Theriot vying for the top spot. After looking at the numbers, are you sure you don’t want Soriano in that top spot? I’m beginning to rethink my position on it.

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers as well as host of VFTB Radio. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail